Think back to when you were a teen. Did you ever feel deeply uncomfortable in a social setting but were unable to leave without negative social repercussions? It could have been at a party, at a friend’s house, or outside school after the bell rang.
Perhaps someone pulled out a bottle of alcohol and suggested a drinking game. Or maybe you were with a potential romantic interest and they got too intimate with you. Or perhaps you were at a friend’s house, and the conversation (or the TV) got too graphic or explicit for you.
Wouldn’t it have been nice if there had been a family emergency right at that moment – perfectly timed – and your parents phoned you to announce they had to pick you up immediately
Not only would you have been able to escape that uncomfortable situation, but you would still have saved face in front of your friends.
That would have been great, right?
Some families have exactly such a plan in place to protect their teens from risky, peer-pressure-laden scenarios. Bert Fulks, a father of three who spent years working as a recovery counselor for teens with addiction, created the “X Plan” when he heard how many adolescents regularly found themselves in sticky situations with no socially acceptable way out.
Here’s how the plan works.
Let’s say your teen finds themselves in a situation they find uncomfortable. All they have to do is text the letter “X” to a parent. Then you wait a moment or two, and call them on the phone.
The two of you follow a very basic scripted conversation:
Parent: “Honey, something’s come up and I have to come get you right now.”
Teen: “What happened?”
Parent: “I’ll tell you when I get there. Be ready to leave in five minutes. I’m on my way.”
Then, immediately get into the car to pick up your teen. After making sure you have the right address, of course.
When friends ask your teen why they’re leaving, your teen can look very perplexed/annoyed and say, “I have no idea, my mom just called me and said something happened at home.” You’ll be able to rescue your teen from risky/uncomfortable situations. Those include unsafe behavior, drugs, drinking, or sex while allowing them to save face in front of their friends.
Now, you’re probably thinking. Why can’t my teenager just stand up to friends and say they don’t want to participate in whatever’s going on?
The answer is that your teen is, after all, still a teen.
During adolescence, their social life is of paramount importance. When they’re in an awkward situation, they grin and bear it, despite their discomfort. They don’t want to risk looking like a scaredy-cat or a party-pooper. The X-Plan is a simple way for them to exit a risky setting without causing damage to their reputation or social standing.
As Fulks writes: “[Your teen] knows he has a way out; at the same time, there’s no pressure on him to open himself to any social ridicule. He has the freedom to protect himself while continuing to grow and learn to navigate his world.”
Don’t Punish Your Adolescent
One condition to the X-Plan, though, is that a parent cannot ask any questions about what happened to cue the plea for help. In order for your teen to trust in the plan enough to use it, you need to reassure them that you won’t pry for details about what was going on. Of course, if they want to talk about the situation, listen to them. But avoid making them feel bad or guilty for getting themselves into the situation to begin with.
For the X-plan to work, there must be no strings attached. Even if your teen was out past curfew, even if your teen was in a shady neighborhood, or somewhere they had no permission to be, do not admonish or punish them for it. Doing that will decrease the chances of them asking for help again – and the next time, the situation could be more dangerous. And ultimately, the most important thing is that your adolescent is safe. Safe from drugs, safe from unwanted sex, safe from aggressive behavior, and safe from any dangerous situation.
The goal of the X-Plan is for your teen to know that whenever or wherever they are, they have an escape plan – and they can trust you to implement the plan right away, with no questions asked.